Yesterday night the Rouses in the Central Business District hosted the kickoff party for the third annual Eat Local Challenge. As detailed by Alex Woodward in 2011, the Eat Local Challenge was started by local resident Lee Stafford and Leslie Brown and Linda Michurski from the Hollygrove Market & Farm.
The Eat Local Challenge has grown exponentially since its beginning, as was apparent by the over 100 people who attended the kickoff party catered by seven restaurants, three local distillers and Ponchartrain Vineyards. The challenge is a part of a larger nationwide movement for people to be more socially conscious of food they eat and where it comes from. "Locavores" as they're known, are interested in sustainability and making sure food has as little of an ecological impact as possible. The Eat Local Challenge tries to tap into this mindset to open the eyes of New Orleans residents to the all the locally grown and sourced food that's available to them.
But how practical is eating locally really? As Woodward noted in his article about the inaugural challenge, eating locally can be a luxury. While a produce box at Hollygrove Market only costs $25 and provides enough fruits and vegetables for a whole week, even the 10% discount afford to challenge participants at the Cleaver & Co. butcher shop doesn't change the fact that meats and cheeses are still more expensive when bought from local farms than from mass producers. Stafford acknowledges the price disparity.
"Meat is more expensive and it should be," he said. "Meat is harder to produce. Local meat is all grass fed and it's an animal."
But price disparity is just one of the many challenges facing locavores. For one, eating locally is harder if you work during the day, which means you have cook all your lunches at home. Also, buying locally means more time commuting to farmer's markets to find local food. But the point of the challenge is to show that the average person can overcome these challenges. So, to test out the feasibility of being a locavore, I've signed up for this year's Eat Local Challenge and will be documenting my month as a locavore.
A few things to note: As Stafford told me yesterday, the challenge can be very hard for locavore novices. I, for one, can't go without coffee in the mornings and, since coffee isn't grown within 200 miles of New Orleans, this causes a problem. Luckily, the Eat Local Challenge offers different levels of strictness you can follow. I'll be following the "Bienville Level", which allows for three "vices" (non-local food items) that I can eat over the course of the challenge. I can also have three meals a week that are "completely off the wagon" and contain no locally grown ingredients, which allows for eating out or preparing meals at home with non-local ingredients.
My "vices" (which can change from week to week) will be the aforementioned coffee as well as beer (even local brewers like Abita and NOLA use imported hops) and bread (unless someone can point out some locally grown wheat). However, in the spirit of the challenge, I will be keeping my vices as local as possible and will be sticking to Louisiana roasted blends of coffee, local beers and locally baked breads.
Speaking with Stafford at the kickoff event yesterday, he said that the main thing people should take from the Challenge is that it's a learning experience, not just about local food but about one's self and the decisions we make when it comes to our food.
"It's a personal thing," he told me. "First you start by buying local and then you start making the food and then you realize, 'hey I look what I made'."
Stay tuned to Blog of New Orleans every day in June as I document my life as a locavore.